Bill Gates backs demonetisation, says it’s worth the pain


NEW DELHI: A glimpse of how much the world’s richest man, whose current net worth of $87.4 billion is more than the market value of India’s largest private sector company Reliance Industries, enjoys India could be witnessed at Delhi’s India Gate on Thursday morning.

Bill Gates was zipping around in a phut phut (modified three-wheeler) for a virtual reality film being shot on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Since 2002, when it started operations in India, the foundation has invested $1 billion in India. It’s looking to do much more in the country. “I am very optimistic on India. Even if one of my ideas contributes to making a difference to the lives of 1.3 billion Indians, it will be huge for me,” Gates told TOI in an exclusive interaction.

He was referring to the ideas he shared during his lecture on technology for transformation at Niti Ayog on Wednesday. The lecture was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, finance minister Arun Jaitley along with other ministers and top officials.

Gates believes digital payments can transform the lives of poor, and if demonetization helps quicken digitization, the temporary pains may be worth going through.

“Government transitions are never managed perfectly and never easy,” he said, referring to the transitory problems caused by the replacement of high-value currency notes.

 “India is pushing towards digitization in a big way. The scale of the country means that once India gets there, the amount of digital innovation here will be greater than anywhere else in the world,” Gates said. Among big benefits of digital financial transactions, he counted a deep reduction in the cost of borrowing for the poor.

Swachh Bharat is another government initiative Gates is excited about. His foundation is working with California Institute of Technology to develop what he calls a “reinvented toilet” that will dispose of waste without the toilet being connected to a sewage system.

The India that Gates sees now is very different from the one he saw during his active years with Microsoft. “Now I am more in Patna than in Hyderabad and Bangalore. And it’s great to see progress in Bihar,” he says, proving that his optimism for India is not skin deep.